Corn plastic, otherwise known as polylactic acid (PLA), is rapidly replacing traditional petroleum based plastics for food containers, utensils, disposable cups and more, but how do you dispose of it? It is common to find a recycle symbol printed or molded into the container, and many also promote that the item is compostable or biodegradable. So what is the most eco-friendly way to dispose of this new generation bio plastic? The answer may depend on which does less harm and very well could be the trash can.
Composting Bio Plastic
There are few facilities equipped to fully compost PLA down to carbon and water. The process to breakdown PLA cups is approximately 30–45 days in a commercial compost facility with a sustained temperature of 140 degrees for 10 days. Most people have had mixed results with backyard composters, some taking months, others even years, much related to sustained heat. › Continue reading
There has been a bit of an explosion of natural and organic mattress retailers, many of them have been in business for years in Europe and are just now popping up state-side. Conventional mattresses these days are made with an array of materials and chemicals, especially the popular memory foam mattresses.
Unfortunately many of the mattress producers are also required to add toxic flame retardants although there are more natural ways around this. Still, many compound the issue by using petroleum synthetics, unsustainable materials, and manufacturing practices that release harmful VOCs (that really bad chemical smell from paint or a new foam mattress), and that are not biodegradable or recyclable only to waste space in landfills.
Lucky for us there are now a pluthura of all natural mattress manufacturers out there which use all natural, organic an sustainable materials such as:
- Natural Rubber (Latex)
- Organic Cotton
- Bamboo Frames and Support
- Sustainable Wood Frames
- Coconut Fiber Batting
- Horse Hair
- Cactus Fiber
Some of the larger names using 100% natural rubber and various other sustainable materials include › Continue reading
If you have a composting pile or bin for your home garden, then you should head down to your local cafe and pick up these compost boosters. Coffee shops throw away tons of used coffee grounds each year, grounds which are better suited for your garden. Many cafes offer these grounds to their customers if you just ask. Some Starbucks cafes even have them bagged and waiting for you in their Grounds for your Garden bin.
Coffee grounds are excellent for home garden composting, providing your plants with a rich source of nitrogen. You can even add them to rose beds, azalea beds, or any acid loving plants, just spread a thin layer over the surface of the bed. Typical acid loving plants thrive in areas where summer rains are common. Unfortunately, due to salt levels, you should not add coffee ground into your container plants.
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With another year behind us, I like to look back and see what people are reading, and in particular, the most popular articles on this site. Here they are as voted by your traffic, the Top 7 Chic Ecologist articles for the year 2010:
- #1 – Pacific Plastic Island
A plastic island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean more than 30 feet deep and twice the size of Texas, this is definitely a troubling story. It seems that there are more of these plastic islands in just about every major ocean driven by wind and current gyres.
- #2 – Eco Friendly Driveways
Green driveways are becoming increasingly popular to reduce storm runoff, water pollution and recharge underground water sources. They are easy to build, add a softer more charming feel to any parking spot and are much more visually pleasing. A great way for anyone to reduce their footprint.
- #3 – Eco Friendly Diamonds
Is there such a thing as a Green Diamond? What is the difference between a mined diamond and a synthetic diamond? How about social implications, like blood diamonds? This article explains your green options when it comes to selecting a jewel for your gem.
- #4 – Platinum for Fuel Cells
Platinum plays a big role in fuel cell vehicles, and a new process found by Researchers with the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Houston may make it more efficient and cheaper. This is a big step in the development of fuel cell technology, one that may affect our future transportation costs.
A while back, we had a piece introducing the Mirimichi, the first American golf course to be declared a certified Audubon International Classic Sanctuary. An eco-friendly golf course, backed up by the good name of a popular celebrity. There are of course other golf courses that hold the distinction of being considered as eco-friendly in one way or another across the United States and internationally, and an eco-friendly golf course would strike anybody as a great idea, but what about all those people who want to play but don’t intend to fly to Tennessee or the few select locations that boast their connection to the environment? It can’t be expected that every game be played at a location that meets some picky qualifications, and it needn’t be so.
Biodegradable golf balls and tees made from recycled material give people the ability to at least make an individual effort towards the same ends. With tees that biodegrade within a year or so, and aren’t made of wood, an individual effort can be made to the preservation of trees. And balls that quickly biodegrade in water, instead of leading to the deaths of sea-animals that mistake them for something a little more edible, go a long way to the preservation of marine wildlife. What follows than are a few resources for the avid golfer to upgrade his/her collection: › Continue reading
Around the world, the concept of the reusable bag is catching on with gusto. The reasoning may differ from country to country, but the effects seem to be the same: less waste and more money towards environmental causes.
Many people claim that paper is more environmentally friendly than plastic, but the truth is far from that. Paper bags consume over 40% more energy to produce than plastic bags. Paper produces 50%-70% more pollutants than plastic bags in production. Paper bags also can only be recycled 5-7 times, and then the fibers are too short to stick together properly and still be useful. Unfortunately, plastic isn’t the answer. Although they use less energy to produce, they’re made of polyethylene, which is a man-made polymer that microorganisms don’t recognize as food. Essentially they will dissolve over hundreds of years through photoradiation, but that still means they just become tiny granules.
Ireland introduced a plastic bag tax, referred to as the “plastax” in 2002. The tax is now about 33 cents in USD. The money from this tax goes to the environment ministry and is used for enforcement and clean-up projects. The tax had the desired effect of cleaning up all the bags that littered the streets. Their use of plastic bags decreased by 90% or 277 million bags altogether in the first three months! Isn’t that amazing?
Australia followed suit and in 2009 the state of South Australia banned plastic bags as well. They estimated that 400 million bags would be “saved” in the first year. Studies were done previous to the ban that found that reusable bags used only 9% of the energy and 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic bag use.
Does such a thing even exist? Personally, I just use a trashcan without a liner and just rinse it out when it gets funky rather than add more trash to the landfill, but this doesn’t work for everybody. There are those times where you really do need a garbage bag, and not all trash bags are created equal.
Jig-A-Loo recently sent me some samples of their EconoGreen Plastic trash bags. These are made of 100% recycled plastic, are recyclable and are also oxodegradable. All this and they cost the same as a regular old trash bag!
Oxodegradable means “to degrade over time when exposed to oxygen.” For example, EconoGreen Plastics bags and drop cloths contain a unique additive that helps break down the carbon-carbon bonds in the plastic, reducing the strength of the bag when it is exposed to oxygen over a period of time (2-4 years). As the bag continues to degrade into smaller pieces it becomes a nutrient for microbes that consume the fragments leaving behind water, CO2 and a biomass. This process doesn’t leave any harmful residue or toxins.
Unfortunately, they do not degrade in a landfill, but then again, nothing does (see my recent article on how long it takes to biodegrade). While they don’t degrade fast enough for a backyard compost pile, they will begin to breakdown in 2 years if they somehow escape into the environment, and ultimately isn’t that where it counts? While it isn’t the solution, it is a step on the way to eliminating harmful plastics in our environment. I can’t wait to give these a true ‘real world’ test by letting one bag sit out on my balcony.
I just happened to see an amazing thing last night on television, a (seemingly) plastic snack-chip bag biodegrade in a time lapse in 12 weeks. Impossible! Or is it?
NatureWorks has developed a compostable bag for PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay Division, the makers of SunChips. As with many claims of length of time to biodegrade, it is usually very dependent on the environment it is placed in.
This fully biodegradable bag is said to be able to decompose over 14 weeks when placed in a hot, active compost bin or pile—at home or at an industrial composting site.
Unlike most biodegradable plastics which just break down into smaller pieces, but remain in the environment as small bits of plastic, these are made from a biopolymer resin made extracted from plant sugar called polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is made from lactic acid which in turn is made from dextrose by fermentation. Dextrose is made from starch and starch is made from carbon dioxide and water. It is said to also lower the impact on greenhouse gasses when compared to plastics due to the fact that it’s made with plants that grow annually instead of petroleum (which takes millions of years to form).
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